CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan's sizzling play these past six weeks isn't unprecedented – he's scored goals in bunches throughout his Major League Soccer career. But it's served as a reminder of how dominant he can be as he's led the Galaxy from the Western Conference basement into prime position in the playoff chase.
Donovan has scored seven goals with five assists in the past eight games, combining with fellow Designated Players David Beckham and Robbie Keane to turn the flaccid attack of the season's first three months into something truly explosive, very much as was envisioned back in preseason.
A role change, back onto the frontline after a couple of seasons on the right side of midfield, has suited the 30-year-old Galaxy captain, but it required a deep conversation last month with head coach Bruce Arena to bring out the best in his game.
GOAL: Donovan slots it home
“I don't think I did a great job in the beginning of the year of being a captain and leader,” says Donovan, who is skipping LA's friendly Tuesday night against Tottenham at Home Depot Center for Wednesday night's MLS All-Star Game against Chelsea in Chester, Pa. “Bruce and I had a long conversation when I got back from the national team [for World Cup qualifiers in early June], and we spoke about that, and he was right.
“I took it to heart, and I've tried to do a better job.”
Donovan has been spectacular since, the clear catalyst in an attack that has erupted for 22 goals in the past eight games – he, Beckham and Keane add up to 17 goals and 12 assists in that span – after scoring just 16 in the first 14 matches. He and Keane have forged a deadly partnership as LA have won six of nine after the FIFA break.
“I think we're playing well together. We link up very well,” said Keane, who has five goals in his last four games. “We're players that love to get on the ball, play into feet. We try to combine as much as we can, and that's been the case.”
“We've had time to play together,” said Donovan, who has nine goals and seven assists for the year. “Robbie and I clearly see the game in the same way, and we know how to play the game, and then when you have guys like Marcelo [Sarvas], David, Hector [Jimenez], Juninho – when you have guys like that contributing, it makes it really difficult on opposing defenses because they can't focus on one of two or even three guys, because the other guys will make you pay.”
Donovan has been stationed exclusively up top since about midway through the second half of LA's May 5 loss at New York. Edson Buddle's injuries, Chad Barrett's iffy form and Keane's Euro 2012 assignment made for need, and Donovan partnered Keane and Pat Noonan in two games before joining the US team for qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
While away, he made comments about the difficulties in “trying to keep the passion alive,” raising questions about his hunger and commitment for the game.
GOAL: Donovan sets up Keane tap-in
It seems he's answered those questions.
“I think he's done a good job mentally and physically to be ready for games,” Arena said. “Landon can always play well. If he puts himself in the right frame of mine, he can be good every game.”
Playing at forward makes a difference.
“I'm really enjoying it,” Donovan said. “It's helped a lot in that I don't have to do a lot of the defensive work I was doing previously. Now I have the opportunity to focus my attention on attacking, and I think that's where my best attributes are. I think we're using me more efficiently and effectively now.”
Sometimes, he acknowledged, he needs to be prodded.
“Some awareness is good all the time,” Donovan said. “Sometimes you get caught up in what's going on with yourself and you forget about the team and what's going on with the team. It was good to sort of refocus and reevaluate and realize there's a lot more asked of me and I need to do more.”